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Lady Gaga, 'Hold My Hand'

Lady Gaga has always loved theatrics. Ever since the release of her debut The Fame — a dedicated thesis statement that pushed pop music to a highly conceptual level — her artistry has skewed more towards performance art, with the highest possible level of drama and transgression. This is a woman who once created a flying helicopter dress, challenged the Catholic Church through repurposed iconography and performatively murdered herself onstage in her inaugural MTV VMAs performance.

Now, nearly 15 years since the start of her career, Gaga has mellowed out significantly. She's gotten older and generated critical acclaim in the jazz and traditional pop worlds. The space that she's found herself in post-Joanne is that of an anthemic, stadium-filling yet palatable pop star, best exemplified by the new single "Hold My Hand," her tie-in for the upcoming film Top Gun: Maverick. On paper, the choice of Gaga to carry the Top Gun sequel's soundtrack is maybe an obvious one: the film's lead Tom Cruise and Gaga both embody the extremes of their respective fields. But in practice the song falls victim to Late Career Gaga Syndrome, as it fails to push boundaries in favor of a motherly, catch-all message of allyship.

It's a tribute to the cheesiest of '80s ballads and one can't help but draw a comparison between "Hold My Hand" and the original Top Gun ballad: Berlin's "Take My Breath Away." In that tribute, it succeeds, and would probably work perfectly as the soundtrack to patriotic GoPro footage of fighter jets swan diving over a rocky gorge. But Gaga has proven that she can do better than a mediocre movie soundtrack — see the highs of A Star Is Born. And this song, much like a nostalgia-propelled sequel, is entertaining in this moment, but leaves a yearning for the way things used to be.

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Reanna Cruz
Reanna Cruz is a news assistant for NPR Music's Alt.Latino.